REVIEWER: TEGYN ANGEL
I’ll be frank, I’ve never been a fan of maximalist shoes for trail running. I spent years being a Hoka Hater before I ever laced a pair up. With that said, I do try to keep a relatively open mind and avoid letting unwarranted bias colour my experience. It just took me a little while to realise I was being the sort of close-minded, self-important zealot I would otherwise write off.
You see, I love mountain running and the seat-of-your-pants, barely-in-control feeling I get descending technical trails. For this, I value agile, accurate foot placement and rely on ground-feel and proprioception to keep me upright and precise. Agile. Accurate. Ground-feel. Proprioception. These simply aren’t words I associate with 30mm of foam. But really, how much of trail running in Australia involves dancing over knife-edge ridgelines where the consequences of a misplaced toe are potentially fatal? Not many.
What I’ve realised (yeah, I can be pretty slow on the uptake) is that Australia is generally pretty blunt. We’re rough and direct, not lithe and subtle. We’d rather force our way in via headbutt and shoulder-charge than pick the lock. Our trails and trail races are no different; they’re big, brutal and direct. Our sunburnt land and ragged mountain ranges are painted with an egg flip rather than a fine-tipped sable brush. And thus, the Mafate Speed 3 (MFS3). For a shoe made in Vietnam by an American company founded in France with a Mauri name, this is one helluvan Aussie shoe.
Described alternatively by the Hoka marketing boffins as a “rugged trail contender” and “trail beast”, the Mafate Speed 3 is a maximalist shoe for trail and off-road use. Unlike the crossover Stinson and Challenger ATR models, MFS3 doesn’t much care for the road. Unlike the Speedgoat, which features a more complete Vibram® Megagrip outsole, the MFS3 sports a dual-density (i.e. two different materials) outsole that pairs a partial covering of heavier, grippier, harder-wearing 5mm Vibram® Megagrip lugs with lighter, springier, less-durable EVA.
Moving up through the shoe, the high-volume EVA Hoka is famous for (think: light, springy, cushioned foam) continues from the outsole through the midsole to provide a comfortable yet reasonably responsive ride. The upper continues the “off-road all-rounder” theme, wrapping a lightweight, highly breathable, recycled polyester woven mesh with TPU overlays (those shiny, plastic bits) to increase stability and hold the foot in place on technical terrain (the mesh stretches, these don’t) while protecting the mesh weave from abrasion and tears. Perhaps my favourite part of the shoe, the upper, also features a stretchy, laminated, breathable tongue that does an excellent job of wrapping around the top of the foot and limiting lace-bite while also keeping debris out.
Testing for the Mafate Speed 3 was done over two days on the Oscars100 Hut2Hut course, ascending and descending Four Mile spur before paralleling the Howqua River and its 14 river crossings. Four Mile is brutally steep and unrelenting, and the constant river crossings along the Howqua meant plenty of opportunities for crap to get into the shoes and cause discomfort. Early on in each of my test runs, I did feel a little like I was wearing thick, woollen socks, but I soon forgot they were on and hardly gave them a second thought; that’s bloody surprising for a 300g, maximal shoe!
On a spectrum that placed grip and durability at one extreme, and minimal weight and comfort at the other, I’d place the MSF3 smack bang in the middle; a good balance that does most things well without obvious failings. Coming from a biased, judgemental, minimalist background, this is a little difficult for me, but I’m going to rip the BandAid off quickly: I think this is an excellent trail shoe for Aussie conditions and, particularly, Ultras. While I’d avoid them if I was trying to set downhill records on my local mountain or running laps of my local city park, if you’re looking for a comfortable, high-cushion, forgiving trail or off-road shoe that will handle the majority of Aussie trails and still be comfortable after 50km, the Hoka One One Mafate Speed 3 would make an excellent addition to your quiver.